Shelf Awareness for Friday, October 21, 2016

Margaret K. McElderry Books: Onyeka and the Rise of the Rebels (Onyeka) by Tolá Okogwu

St. Martin's Griffin: Thank You for Sharing by Rachel Runya Katz

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers: My Head Has a Bellyache: And More Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-Ups (Mischievous Nonsense #2) by Chris Harris, illustrated by Andrea Tsurumi

Oxford University Press, USA: Spring Reads

Chronicle Books: Tap! Tap! Tap!: Dance! Dance! Dance! by Hervé Tullet

Minotaur Books: The Golden Gate by Amy Chua

Quotation of the Day

S.J. Kincaid: On 'Entering the Kid Lit Community'

S.J. Kincaid

"It's an enormous honor to stand before you and to speak with so many people in the bookselling community.... I've always felt that sense of not fitting in places. And I think the interesting thing for me since entering the kid lit community has been the fact that I am entering a community.... I had never really realized that writing for kids meant joining a group of people who were all dedicated to the same purpose, which is getting books into the hands of young readers.... It's just a tremendous privilege to have a team, to have people who are connecting my books with people who are going to read them. And it's an honor for people to think that my book is something that would mean something to a kid who might want to read it. So I just wanted to say thank you for all of that."

--S.J. Kincaid, speaking at this year's Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Fall Discovery Show in Denver, Colo., about her upcoming YA novel The Diabolic. (For more coverage of the MPIBA show, see Robert Gray's column below.)


G.P. Putnam's Sons: Under the Tamarind Tree by Nigar Alam


Molly Parent, Stephen Sparks Buying Point Reyes Books in California

Molly Parent and Stephen Sparks

The new owners of Point Reyes Books, Point Reyes Station, Calif., are Molly Parent and Stephen Sparks, experienced booksellers who met seven years ago while working at Green Apple Books in San Francisco. On January 1, they take the reins from Steve Costa and Kate Levinson, owners of the store for the last 14 years, who wrote to friends and customers, "We couldn't be happier and feel certain you will be, too, as you get to know them and see their thoughtful and knowledgeable selection of books and events unfold in the coming months... We received 27 letters of interest from around the country! Stephen and Molly were our top choice based on their deep experience in the bookselling and literacy worlds and because they are beloved in the Bay Area book community. They're both in their 30s, and they represent the next generation of creative, energetic entrepreneurial booksellers. We're really pleased to have such capable and likeable stewards for Point Reyes Books."

Sparks grew up in New Jersey and managed a bookstore on the Jersey Shore for several years. When he moved to San Francisco in 2007, he immediately began working at Green Apple Books, becoming the primary new book buyer for both of its locations and manager of the new Green Apple Books on the Park in 2014. He also serves on the steering committee of the Bay Area Book Festival and has been a juror for various literary prizes, including the Best Translated Book Award, the American Booksellers Association Indies Choice Award and National Endowment for the Arts awards.

Parent grew up in Massachusetts and Santa Monica and left Green Apple in 2012 to work at 826 Valencia, the nonprofit writing and tutoring center co-founded by author Dave Eggers. She will continue to work as communications manager of 826 Valencia in addition to handling communications for Point Reyes Books.

The new owners are also getting married November 12. Sparks told the San Francisco Chronicle that compared to buying a bookstore, "The wedding planning seems like a piece of cake." The couple currently live in San Francisco but will move to Marin County next year.

"Point Reyes is one of our favorite places in the world," Parent told Shelf Awareness. "When we found out through a mutual friend that they [Costa and Levinson] were selling the store, our first thought was this is a chance to fulfill a lifelong dream."

According to Sparks, the plan is to keep with the store's existing strengths, which include its natural history, cooking and fiction sections and a commitment to serving the Point Reyes community, while growing the store's new book inventory and being perhaps "a little more adventurous" with some small press titles.

"This store has had a long tradition of service," he said. "We're really excited to continue it and grow and see how it manifests itself. By the way that [Costa and Levinson] handled the sale, you can clearly get the sense that it's not just a business to them, it's so much more than that."

Sparks and Parent have already begun meeting members of the Point Reyes community, and Costa and Levinson have introduced them to some of the store's most loyal and longtime customers.

"There is such a strong community that supports Point Reyes Books," said Parent. "It's a wonderful thing to be welcomed into."

Sparks and Parent are financing the purchase of the store through a group of local and other investors and have created an Indiegogo campaign to raise $30,000.

Plum Blossom: Mop Rides the Waves of Courage: A Mop Rides Story (Emotional Regulation for Kids) by Jaimal Yogis, illustrated by Matt Allen

The Booksmith in San Francisco Expands with 'The Bindery'

Beginning November, the Booksmith, San Francisco, Calif., "will expand its offerings across Haight Street with a new space called 'the Bindery,' which will debut inside Second Act at 1727 Haight St.," Hoodline reported.

The bookstore said it plans to transform the 2,400-square-foot space into a "winter literary wonderland," offering "a full array of offbeat, quirky, artistic gifts for children and adults." Hoodline noted that "they'll also be selling a whole lot of books, as well as establishing an event space for community and literary happenings."

Second Act's owners Jack and Betsy Rix announced in August they would be closing the marketplace, which had hosted a variety of food vendors, in order to focus on events and retail partnerships. "When we made the decision to close Second Act earlier this year, we were determined to find a long-term tenant who shares our progressive values of quality and community, and who will enhance and improve the block," Betsy Rix said. "Partnering with Booksmith is a dream come true for us and we cannot imagine a better fit for the neighborhood, or a more exciting use for the space."

Booksmith co-owner Christin Evans said her team will get a feel for the space and make preparations for the new year while running a streamlined holiday pop-up through November and December. "The post-holiday build-out is going to be our chance to really make the space our own," she said. "Think small cafe, Alembic beer and wine, plenty of books--a nice space to linger and spend time."

Evans told the Chronicle that the "new store will enable us to do a couple of things. In addition to allowing us to expand our offerings, we're ultimately going to be able to have a dedicated community events space, which is something that the Haight can always use more of."

Lead buyer Camden Avery said the store will feature a mix of children's books, cookbooks, design and gardening books, and literary bestsellers: "Once we complete the build-out after the year's end, we'll increase the offerings strategically to round out sections that seem to work well in the space, probably with expanded offerings of culinary and children's titles."

Candlewick Press (MA): Have You Seen My Invisible Dinosaur? by Helen Yoon

Prairie Fox Books Opens in Ottawa, Ill.

Gabriela Crivilare at Prairie Fox (via)

Prairie Fox Books, Ottawa, Ill., opens today at 722 La Salle Street in the former location of the Book Mouse, which closed in August, the Times reported. The new owners are Gabriella Crivilare, her parents, Mary and Gregg Olson, and younger brother Ethan Olson.

"I thank these past owners for blazing the way, and I look forward to sharing my love of books and the written word with fellow book lovers throughout the area," said Crivilare, adding that the new bookshop will feature author events, special book parties and promote reading programs as did its predecessor.

The Times also noted that the Crivilare "confirmed Sonny, the cat that has lived in the bookstore for years, remains prowling among the many shelves at the shop."

Frankfurt 2016: Booksellers' Best Thing They Did Last Year

During a meeting of the European and International Booksellers Federation at the Frankfurt Book Fair yesterday, booksellers from around the world shared best practices and lessons learned over the past year.

Rosamund de la Hey

Rosamund de la Hey, owner of the Mainstreet Trading Company in St. Boswells, Scottish Borders, and president of the Booksellers Association of U.K. and Ireland, described the creation of the Mainstreet Book Van as the best thing she did in her store last year. In a rural area with a population of less than 1,000, the van--which was 10% funded by a James Patterson grant--allows de la Hey and her colleagues to bring authors to area schools and foster connections among schoolchildren, authors and the store even at offsite events. The Mainstreet Trading Company plans these events with the local council to ensure that every child in local schools gets to meet a real author at least once. The van also serves as a mobile advertisement, though de la Hey said its drawbacks include running extremely loudly and being very cold to drive in the winter.

Though it wasn't done in the last year, de la Hey also mentioned the creation of "book burrows" in her store's children's department as a great addition. Inspired by record shop headphone booths, the repurposed storage cupboards are now cozy dens in which children can listen to audiobooks. Each burrow is also decorated around a particular theme and identity.

Betsy Burton, American Booksellers Association president and co-owner of the King's English Bookshop in Salt Lake City, Utah, discussed the Buy Your Building initiative, through which the Salt Lake City government, in conjunction with Local First Utah, provides low-interest loans to help local businesses purchase their buildings. The initiative will begin with a test program in the city's downtown. Burton said that her own decision to buy her building years ago "became an essential part of our survival." She added: "If you buy your building, it is just a huge thing for the stability of local businesses and the stability of the local economy."

Matthieu de Montchalin

, owner of L'Armitiere in Rouen and president of the French Independent Booksellers Association (Syndicat de la librairie française), discussed the importance of using his association's tools for sharing data among booksellers. With those digital tools, he can easily compare his sales data to those of other French bookstores and see if his bookshop might have "missed something" in regards to a particular title that is finding more success at other stores. He also jokingly called the French book market, with its fixed prices and some 3,000 indies, "a paradise."

Maria Hamrefors

When Maria Hamrefors, chief executive of the Swedish bookstore chain Akademibokhandeln, took the floor next, she said she would not call the Swedish market "hell," but admitted that the last few years have been very challenging. In Sweden's unregulated market, print books remain the dominant format but Internet bookstores have become the single largest bookselling channel. Amazon, however, does not have a huge share of the market in Sweden: the e-commerce growth has been driven by two Swedish companies.

Hamrefors said that the largest project her stores launched last year was a company-wide customer loyalty program, which has been extremely successful. On September 19, the program reached the million-member mark, a sizable chunk of the country's population of 9.5 million. The program gives members special discounts, invitations to special events, "VIP treatment" during annual sales and partner offerings. Hamrefors added that Akademibokhandeln's next big project is to launch an Internet shop.

Phillippa Duffy

Phillippa Duffy, the general manager of the University Book Shop at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, joked that the New Zealand market, compared to Sweden and France, was "hell," with no regulation and a loophole in which offshore suppliers--including Amazon and its Book Depository subsidiary--are exempt from paying the normal value added tax. Despite that, she said, bookselling is wonderful in New Zealand, and the 70-year-old University Book Shop is seeing growth, particularly with children's books. Duffy made a "conscious effort" to grow the store's children's section and now, she reported, it is becoming renowned as an "amazing children's destination." This year, the bookshop also created an annual residency for emerging writers called the Robert Lord Writers' Cottage Trust. Each summer, an emerging writer will spend six weeks staying in the eponymous cottage, with a stipend and office.

Patricia Genat

Patricia Genat, chief executive of ALS Library Services and former president of the Australian Booksellers Association, said that currently Australia has the same loophole as New Zealand, exempting offshore suppliers from VAT, but this will finally change in Australia as of July 1, 2017, after years of "lobbying very strongly on behalf on indie booksellers and retailers in general." Genat also shared the news that the Australian book market has experienced strong growth in children's books, with several new all-children's bookshops set to open and some existing stores seeing an "amazing increase" in sales of any books geared to those under 15. --Alex Mutter

Obituary Note: Thom Jones

Thom Jones, whose "ferocious, semiautobiographical short stories about boxers, custodians, soldiers, crime victims, cancer patients and asylum inmates coupled a fateful machismo--the eternal pessimist Arthur Schopenhauer was his hero--with grim humor," died October 13, the New York Times reported. He was 71. His first collection, A Pugilist at Rest (1993), was a National Book Award finalist, and, in 1999, Jones "ended a meteoric decade with another well-received anthology, Sonny Liston Was a Friend of Mine. He later worked on screenplays and a novel," the Times noted. Jones also published the story collection Cold Snap.

"These are people you wouldn't want living next door to you," he told the Mississippi Review in 1999. "Even I wouldn't want them living next door. But it's fun to drop in on them occasionally and see what sort of preposterous activities they are up to."

Jones "survived a Dickensian childhood, self-hate and a brain injury from boxing that resulted in temporal lobe epilepsy," the Times wrote. In 1993, he told an interviewer: "Before my injury, I wasn't inclined to be a reader, or obsessed with God and the meaning of life. Ever since this happened to me, I've been a more introspective guy, constantly reading philosophy, studying world religions and then having a fever, literally a fever, to write. It's a lust, an obsession, to put it down, and in the act of writing I'm not Thom Jones. And it's such a relief to not be Thom Jones."


Image of the Day: Travel Trivia

To celebrate the release of The Travel Book, Lonely Planet hosted a Travel Trivia Night at Book Passage in Corte Madera, Calif. The event was emceed by NPR's Snap Judgment storyteller and local San Francisco comedian Dhaya Lakshminarayanan. Pictured is the winning team, "Brotherhood of the Traveling Pants." Each winner received a $50 gift card to the store, and a Lonely Planet T-shirt and tote bag.

In November, Lonely Planet will sponsor 30 travel trivia nights in five cities across the country. Local bookstores, including Politics & Prose, Books, Inc., The Book Cellar, the Strand and Parnassus Books, will provide special discounts for attendees. More information here.

'11 Things Booksellers Would Like You To Know'

Sharing "11 things booksellers would like you to know" with Bustle readers, Maddy Foley of Volumes Bookcafe in Chicago offered "a PSA from your local peddler of the written word. Was that an annoying phrase? I'm sure it was. Moving on.... Sure, it can get draining. Last week I had someone very condescendingly ask if I'd ever heard of Dostoevsky (yes, duh), I field plenty of comments from people shocked that a millennial knows how to read, and re-shelving children's books post-storytime is a true nightmare. But there is no other job like bookselling. Here's why we love it (and, TBH, why we don't)."

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Carole Bayer Sager on Super Soul Sunday

Weekend Edition: Greg Mitchell, author of The Tunnels: Escapes Under the Berlin Wall and the Historic Films the JFK White House Tried to Kill (Crown, $28, 9781101903858).

OWN's Super Soul Sunday: Carole Bayer Sager, author of They're Playing Our Song: A Memoir (Simon & Schuster, $28, 9781501153266).

Movies: White Noise; Borne

Uri Singer has optioned the rights to Don Delillo's novel White Noise and writer/director Michael Almereyda (Experimenter, Marjorie Prime, Tesla) is set to adapt the screenplay. Indiewire noted that Delillo "is among our most acclaimed living novelists, but also one of our least frequently adapted. Alex Ross Perry acquired the rights to The Names last year and Benoît Jacquot premiered his adaptation of The Body Artist at the Venice Film Festival in September, but to date none of DeLillo's best-known works--namely White Noise, Libra and Underworld--have made their way to the silver screen."

"I think the book combines a sense of humor with a sense of menace. The book has great dialogue and features many cinematic episodes,” said Singer. "It radiates an appreciation of American life but also elements of satire. There's a central love story between a husband and wife, but with an awareness of the secrets and fears that they keep from one another."


Scott Rudin and Eli Bush, who are producing the big screen adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer's  novel Annihilation for Paramount, have signed on to produce a film version of the author's next book, Borne, which the studio acquired the rights to recently, Variety reported. The novel will be published next spring by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Annihilation, starring Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson, and Oscar Isaac, "is one of the more highly anticipated pics of 2017, as it marks writer-director Alex Garland's follow-up to his critical hit Ex Machina," Variety wrote.

Books & Authors

Awards: Winner; T.S. Eliot Shortlist

Mike Cooper won the $25,000 Award for The Downside. The contest solicited unpublished manuscripts from both established authors and newcomers. The prize money is an advance against future royalties on the book, which will have worldwide publication and be released next year.

"We got some incredible manuscripts but in the end, Mike's story was everything we were looking for: Fast, exciting, and well-written," said Otto Penzler, president and CEO of

The final determination on the winner was made by votes from's publishing partners: Open Road Integrated Media, in North America and many countries around the world; Head of Zeus in the Commonwealth; Hayakawa Publishing (Japan, Singapore, and South Korea); Bonnier (Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Finland); Dutch Media Books (Holland and Belgium), and Bastei Lubbe (Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Greece, and selected Eastern European countries).


The shortlist has been unveiled for the £20,000 (about $24,460) T.S. Eliot Prize. The Bookseller reported that 2016 is the first year the prize has been administered by the T.S. Eliot Foundation, which took over the running of the award "following the closing of the Poetry Book Society, the charity which established the prize in 1993 and ran it for 23 years, in June." The winner will be announced January 16. This year's shortlisted titles are:

Void Studies by Rachael Boast
The Blind Road-Maker by Ian Duhig
Jackself by Jacob Polley
Say Something Back by Denise Riley
The Remedies by Katharine Towers
Interference Pattern by J.O. Morgan
Falling Awake by Alice Oswald
Measures of Expatriation by Vahni Capildeo
The Seasons of Cullen Church by Bernard O'Donoghue
Every Little Sound by Ruby Robinson

Reading with... Kristin Cast

Kristin Cast teamed with her mother, P.C. Cast, to write the House of Night and the Escaped series. She has editorial credits, a thriving T-shirt line and a passion for all things paranormal. When away from her writing desk, Cast loves going on adventures with her friends, family and significant other, playing with her French bulldogs and discovering new hobbies. The Scent of Salt & Sand, The Escaped Book Two, was published by Diversion Books (October 11, 2016).

On your nightstand now:

Moon Chosen by P.C. Cast. This epic fantasy novel is an incredible adventure in a world filled with beauty and danger that's strange and familiar at the same time. AND I LOVE THE DOGS! (Plus I'd like to live in the trees.)

Favorite book when you were a child:

A Porcupine Named Fluffy by Helen Lester. I still have my original copy of this book. When I was little, it made me cry with laughter. Looking at the cover and feeling the book in my hands brings back memories of being with my mom. It even has my funky, little girl handwriting on the first page. I've carried it through many moves, and it's been with me through many hardships. It's so much more than just a children's book. But isn't that one of the best things about reading?

Your top five authors:

Scott Sigler has a gift. I swear his characters reach right out of the book and yank you into their world. Some of his books are so gross and chilling in the most delicious, stay up all night reading way. When I grow up, I want to write books just as creepy and suspenseful.

P.C. Cast is a super talented author and absolutely fabulous to work with! But my love for this woman goes beyond her amazing novels. She, as you might already know, is my mother and my best friend. What you might not know is that she's the person who urged me to pursue writing. Without her, I never would have started to share my stories with the world.

Pintip Dunn is not only a wonderful woman, but also a gifted author. Her writing is beautiful and captivating. Forget Tomorrow needs to be at the top of your to read list.

Neil Gaiman is a genius. With his words he paints extraordinary pictures. I know each of his books holds an amazing tale.

Gena Showalter and Kresley Cole (who I'm counting as one person because my love for them is equal). From their ultra-hot adult novels to their bewitching YA, Showalter and Cole never disappoint.

Book you've faked reading:

The Grapes of Wrath, Great Expectations, Crime and Punishment, Frankenstein. It's not shocking to me that there are teens out there who don't like to read. To me, forcing these titles upon high school students is not the best way of introducing them to the amazing world of books.

Book you're an evangelist for:

The Night Huntress series by Jeaniene Frost. I am absolutely IN LOVE with this series! Cat and Bones are my absolute favorite characters, and I am in no way exaggerating. I listen to these books when I'm in my car, and I'll end up sitting in my driveway way longer than I care to admit because Frost has me completely hooked. This series is edge-of-your-seat suspenseful, laugh out loud funny, and will have you all goosebumpy with emotions.

Book you've bought for the cover:

I don't buy books strictly because of their cover very often (I'm a firm believer in reading the first few pages before committing), but during my last trip to Powell's Books, I could not stay away from The Killing Jar by Jennifer Bosworth. The beautiful girl, golden butterflies and scarlet lettering got me. This cover is hauntingly beautiful, and as I'm finding out, so is the story.

Book you hid from your parents:

I never felt like I needed to hide any book from my mom. She was and still is happy that I enjoy reading, no matter the book. I am so grateful that there were no rules when it came to books. It allowed me to freely explore different genres and talk with her about what I was reading without being scared of being judged or told I was doing something wrong.

Book that changed your life:

Richard Preston's The Hot Zone. Preston made me want to work for the Army at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. When I realized I wasn't very good at science (which it turns out is something one needs to excel at to be an asset to USAMRIID), I reread The Hot Zone. This time I read it not as an aspiring scientist, but as an aspiring author. Preston showed me that there's still a chance I could live within the world of infectious diseases.

Favorite line from a book:

"Normal is overrated." --Aphrodite, House of Night series by P.C. & Kristin Cast

To me, normal is the absence of passion. I want to crave an embrace, lose myself in the taste of a delicious piece of dark chocolate, feel every hair on my arm stand on end from the lick of a cool breeze. Normal? Nah, keep it. I'm too busy being grateful and passionate about this life I'm living.

Five books you'll never part with:

Other than my own...
A Porcupine Named Fluffy by Helen Lester
The Hot Zone by Richard Preston
Halfway to the Grave by Jeaniene Frost
Dracula by Bram Stoker
Infected by Scott Sigler

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

Halfway to the Grave by Jeaniene Frost. Didn't I tell you I was obsessed? If I had it to do all over again, I wouldn't inhale this book like I did the first time. I would pace myself and savor every page. Yes, Cat and Bones are that damn good. Drop this article, and go find a copy this very minute. You're welcome.

Book Review

Review: Hammer Is the Prayer

Hammer Is the Prayer: Selected Poems by Christian Wiman (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26 hardcover, 224p., 9780374167745, November 15, 2016)

A selection from his half-dozen poetry collections is perhaps the best way to savor the breadth, wit and uncanny ear of Christian Wiman, former editor of Poetry and a professor of literature and theology at Yale. Hammer Is the Prayer ranges from the early, more formal poems of his 1998 The Long Home to those of the 2014 Once in the West, where his poems are less inhibited by structure, even playful, despite their more sober themes of loss, grief and metaphysics. Raised a strict West Texas Baptist, Wiman developed an early uncomfortable relationship with the spiritual, and his poems reflect this personal struggle. He quit writing during a spell of mild depression, then fell in love with his wife in his late 30s, before being diagnosed a year later with a rare, deadly blood cancer with no predictable life expectancy despite aggressive treatment. No wonder God continues to rear His head in the later poems.

Frequently rhymed and rife with sonorous language, Wiman's work calls for reading out loud. One can hear echoes of Robert Frost, E.A. Robinson, Richard Wilbur--even the nonsense rhymes of Lewis Carroll. Unafraid of allegory, Wiman unleashes the long dramatic poem "Being Serious," tracking the life and death of a character named Serious, introduced as a fetus, "In the best bed there is,/ Where there is no guilt and no sin,/ No child more inner than this.../ No traffic and no planes;/ No debts, no taxes,/ No phones and no faxes;/ No rockslide of information/ Called the Internet." In the Robinson-like "Five Houses Down," Wiman describes a young boy hanging out at the house of an eccentric tinkerer down the street, with its "ten demented chickens/ and the hell-eyed dog... the wonder-cluttered porch/ with its oilspill plumage.../ beans and weenies from paper plates." Probably reminiscent of the poet's personal medical condition, "Darkcharms" paints a chemotherapy waiting room of patients "alive together, alone together..../ Radiated, palliated, sheened gray like infected meat." With an easy shift of tone, Wiman moves from poems of heavy ecclesiastical meditation to the clever monologue of "The Preacher Addresses the Seminarians," in which the somewhat churlish narrator rants about a church service: "Here it comes, brothers and sisters, the confession of sins,/ hominy hominy, dipstick doxology, one more churchcurdled hymn/ we don't so much sing as haunt."

Whether depicting a small-town Texas diner, Chicago's noisy El, a stultifying retirement home or the conflicting emotions of new love in the face of terminal disease, Wiman's poetry is filled with the sounds of wonder, despair, fond memory, and, not infrequently, laughter. Hammer Is the Prayer is a welcome overview of this fine poet's best work. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Shelf Talker: Metaphysical, witty and meditative, former Poetry editor Christian Wiman covers a large canvas with poems reaching out to both heaven and earth.

Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: MPIBA Show--'Two Deep Breaths, Then Go'

One of the things that we hear a lot of in terms of feedback and questions is, 'How's it going in other regions? What's going on right now with the indie channel?' We're very happy to say that the indie channel is strong.

--Dan Cullen, American Booksellers Association senior strategy officer, speaking at the MPIBA's general meeting

So there I was a couple of weeks ago, sitting in a room filled with energized booksellers at the Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers Association's Fall Discovery Show. There was good news--15 new bookstore members, 221 booksellers in attendance--and animated conversations among bookstore owners who were (Dare I say it?) feeling pretty good about the book trade.

Valerie Koehler of Blue Willow Bookshop and Fred Ramey, co-publisher of Unbridled Books
Gary Jobson and Eliot Treichel

But just for a moment, like a passing dark cloud, I recalled an author lunch during the 2008 MPIBA show in Colorado Springs. I'd been sitting at a table with several booksellers who were discussing how much longer they could reasonably justify staying in business. "Bookselling in Challenging Times" was one of the education sessions that year.

The times, as our latest Noble Lit Laureate has often reminded us, are a-changing. Education sessions at this year's MPIBA show featured options like Profiting from Non-Profit Partnerships; Increasing Book Sales at Events; Diversity Through Merchandising; and The Mathematics of Bookselling. Raising your bookseller game, rather than just surviving it, was a predominant theme. The exhibit hall was active and interactive. That 2008 survivalist mentality seemed a distant memory, a bad dream.

Valerie Koehler, owner of Blue Willow Bookshop, Houston Tex., said she liked that the show was "relaxed. People are really engaging with each other. The reps are excited to talk with booksellers. Long time booksellers engage with new booksellers. In the sessions, when booksellers ask questions they are answered by everyone in the room. The sessions are geared toward many levels of booksellers which is helpful for the newer stores. The many events for gathering (meals, banquet, Books & Brew, etc.) give ample opportunity for everyone to meet. It's a great show."

Gary Robson, general manager and CEO of This House of Books, Billings, Mont., agreed: "The name 'Discovery Show' is perfect for this conference, because it's all about discovering new authors, new books, and new connections. The authors I meet in Denver in October are often the ones putting on book events in my store later in the year, and the exhibit hall gives me a chance to catch up with sales reps that don't always make it up to Montana for store visits. This year I had an opportunity to not only learn from the education sessions, but teach as well. The beauty of teaching a seminar like 'Bookselling by the Numbers' is that the research process is as educational for me as it is for the attendees."

Frontlist buying session: Tattered Cover's Cathy Langer and Stephanie Coleman with Norton sales rep Meg Sherman

And, fortunately, bookselling history is about much more than the dark ages of 2008. At the beginning of an informative session called Frontlist Prep from a Pro, Cathy Langer, director of buying for Denver's Tattered Cover Book Store, shared a bit of nostalgia: "I started at the store in 1977, when we were one teeny, tiny store, working off yellow and brown inventory cards. That was helpful for buying and restocking, but we also did a lot of buying out of blind gut buying. We say buying is an art and a science. Back then, there was a lot less hard science and a lot more art. Things have really changed over the years."

No small part of that change has been booksellers' evolving engagement with the Internet. A Social Media for Frontline Booksellers session reminded me that even a decade ago, such discussions were often about convincing half the room that a store website might not be the worst idea ever. Now these sessions drill much deeper into the finer points of social media strategies as an everyday part of operating a 21st-century indie bookstore. Convincing booksellers that they should be involved seems almost as outdated as inventory cards.

Social media session: Jeremy Ellis of Brazos Bookstore and Ally Gilliland of The Bookworm of Edwards

At the social media session, Jeremy Ellis of Brazos Bookstore, Houston, Tex., said, "One of the secrets about bookselling is that everybody sells the same books, but nobody has you. You are the unique thing. The real product of an independent bookstore is the bookseller. That's the only thing that's truly unique. And so, being yourself as much as you can be on these platforms conveys your real brand. It has nothing to do with the logo; it has nothing to do with your color scheme. Your brand is the promise of who you are."

So where do we go from here? At the Reading the West Book Awards Luncheon, Eliot Treichel, winner of the children's category for his YA novel A Series of Small Maneuvers, shared some life-altering words of wisdom from his first whitewater kayaking instructor, who counseled: "Two deep breaths, then go."

Expressing gratitude to the MPIBA and indie booksellers, Treichel recalled spending his first year of college in Missoula, Mont.: "I was lonely and homesick and all of that, except that a few blocks from my dorm was this bookstore called Freddy's Feed & Read, which became a second home to me.... So whenever I travel to a town, I always look for a bookstore. I've come to realize that that's what bookstores are. They're homes. Whatever city I go to, no matter how lost I feel, how turned around, if I go to a bookstore there's a sense of orientation."

When I consider that 2008 Bookselling in Challenging Times education session, and all that has happened since in our chosen field, I can't help but think the best advice is at once the simplest and most complex: "Two deep breaths, then go."

--Robert Gray, contributing editor (Column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now)


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